D-Day Perspective

June 6, 2009

Here on the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion comes an odd historical look at the Normandy landings from an altogether different perspective: The civilian inhabitants along that particular French Coast.
And according to history, the Allies acted like barbarians — high saturation bombing of cities, villages and even blowing the shit out of a town where there were no Germans.
And rape.
A bit of history that’s been swept under the rug of time.

From the BBC yesterday (via antiwar.com):

Some 20,000 French civilians were killed in the two-and-a-half months from D-Day, 3,000 of them during the actual landings.
In some areas — like the Falaise pocket where the Germans were pounded into oblivion at the end of the campaign — barely a building was left standing and soldiers had to walk over banks of human corpses.
As for the destruction of Caen, it has long been admitted that it was militarily useless.
The Germans were stationed to the north of the city and were more or less untouched.
Twenty-five years ago, in his book Overlord, Max Hastings had already described it as “one of the most futile air attacks of the war.”

“It was profoundly traumatic for the people of Normandy,” said Christophe Prime, a historian at the Peace Memorial in Caen.
“Think of the hundreds of tons of bombs destroying entire cities and wiping out families. But the suffering of civilians was for many years masked by the over-riding image — that of the French welcoming the liberators with open arms.”

And the Allied forces apparently appeared to run amok:

One woman — from the town of Colombieres — is quoted as saying that “the enthusiasm for the liberators is diminishing. They are looting… everything, and going into houses everywhere on the pretext of looking for Germans.”
Even more feared, of course, was the crime of rape — and here too the true picture has arguably been expunged from popular memory.
According to American historian J Robert Lilly, there were around 3,500 rapes by American servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war.

Do the math: that many in less than a year? VE (Victory in Europe) Day was May 8, 1945.

And this from a timesonline review last January of US college professor/historian William Hitchcock’s book, Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945:

Hitchcock, whose study of military behaviour focuses chiefly on the US Army, notes that while only 15 white American soldiers were executed for crimes in Europe during 1944-45, 55 black Americans were hanged for rape or murder.
This almost certainly represented the harsher attitude adopted by the American high command towards black offenders. Many men guilty of grievous mistreatment of civilians were lightly treated.
The author writes: “The evidence shows that sexual violence against women in liberated France was common.” With the American entry into Germany, the situation seems to have have become even worse, with the army’s Judge Advocate General reporting “an avalanche” of new cases.
When a Stars and Stripes reporter tried to file a story in March 1945 about the widespread prevalence of rape in the Rhineland, it was suppressed by army censors.

A subject not much discussed, especially today with President Obama in Normandy.

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